Call For Participation
Sponsored and supported by the National Science Foundation
Additional support from: Sun Microsystems (www.sun.com) and Turing's
Craft, Inc. (www.turingscraft.com)
The CS 1 WebToTeach Clinical Trial
Computer science education suffers from a serious crisis-- a
huge fraction of students planning a CS major drop the subject
within the first two semesters of study. The retention crisis is
even worse for female and minority students and so limits the
diversity of the CS population.
We can solve this problem by importing teaching methods
from other subjects, in particular by strategically preparing large
numbers of self-paced, highly interactive focused programming
exercises that bridge gaps in readiness in undergraduates. To make
this approach feasible, current web technology must be integrated
into the CS pedagogy. We have done so by developing
WebToTeach (WTT) is a highly interactive, web-based
programming exercise system.. For students, WebToTeach
provides a self-paced experience with the fundamental elements of
programming, giving immediate feedback and hints at problem-
solving. The programming tasks can range from micro-problems (a
declaration, an expression, a statement) to multiple source file
programs. Instructors using WTT have access to a roster that
shows student progress and lets them access student submissions
for each exercise. Preliminary experience suggests that WTT is
helpful in improving retention and programming education in
WTT is described in detail elsewhere (see references
The initiators of this trial hope that the use of WTT
exercises will significantly increase retention in CS 1 by making it
possible for at-risk students to focus on, gain experience with and
master distinct programming language constructs and programming
concepts in an interactive context that avoids other conceptual
distractions. For example, a student can gain mastery of assignment
without worrying about i/o, or gain mastery of array notation
without worrying about loops. This mastery will ultimately lead to
better preparation for closed labs, lectures, and the standard
homework assignments (which WTT does NOT replace!).
To determine whether this is so, we are conducting a
nationwide clinical trial for CS 1 classes that use C++ as a
programming language. A specific set of several hundred mostly
short focused exercises in C++, suitable for CS 1 is being prepared.
We invite the participation of all those CS departments that meet
our enrollment criteria. The trials will start in the spring semester
of 2000 and are expected to continue through the spring of 2001.
Department Enrollment Criteria:
Department has at least two equivalent CS 1 sections, using
the standard (non-breadth-first) CS 1 curriculum with C++ as
the language of instruction. "Honors" and "experimental"
sections or any "special sections" are excluded from
Department and its instructors agree to permit the
administrators of the trial to assign either Intervention A or
Intervention B to each section on a randomized basis.
Department recognizes and accepts that some of its sections
will have different Interventions than others. Instructors
recognize and accept that they will not be choosing the
Intervention for their own section.
Department will provide historical data on CS 1 sections
(grade distribution, enrollment and withdrawal data, gender
data) for the previous year. Department will provide outcome
data according to the Intervention used.
(A) Each student is assigned a WTT student account with
user-id and password. The instructor is assigned a WTT faculty
account with user-id and password. The instructor provides
information about WTT to the section. The instructor may
delete up to 10% of the exercises for his or her section. The
instructor must set up reasonable deadlines for the section.
The instructor must clearly announce to the section that 10%
of the course grade will be based on WTT (and the instructor
must live up to that). The section web page (if one exists)
must link to WTT. The exercises may be done in or out of a
closed lab setting. The instructor or department will provide
outcome data (final grade, withdrawal status, gender) on each
student in the section.
(B) Standard CS 1 section, differing only from A in the
absence of WTT. The instructor or department will provide
outcome data for the section as a whole, but not on each
David Arnow, Dept. of Computer and Information Science,
Brooklyn College, Brooklyn NY 11230 USA
The WebToTeach Project Web Page
The CCLI Project Web Page
* fie99.pdf -- Paper on WebToTeach presented in FIE '99
* ITICSE99.pdf -- Paper on an application of WebToTeach (on-line testing)
presented in ITiCSE '99